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Statewide Culture 2

Veterans Day: Exploring the Arkansas National Cemeteries


Arkansas is home to three National Cemeteries and two Arkansas Veterans Cemeteries. Each serves as hallowed ground, where a profound sense of honor fills the air, and we remember the lives of many who’ve served our country.

Here, the stories of our nation’s heroes are etched into the meticulously maintained sites of serene spaces that honor veterans or those who died on active military duty and some family members. I find them a quiet and peaceful space to reflect, celebrate our country, and build a conversation with my son about the people buried here and why these cemeteries differ from other community spaces.

Unveiling the History and Significance

The national cemeteries in Arkansas serve as solemn reminders of the countless lives lost in the pursuit of freedom and justice. Their existence dates back to the Civil War, when the nation was divided, and battles were fought on its own soil. As the war escalated, the need for proper burial grounds became apparent, leading to the establishment of these hallowed sites. Arkansas National Cemeteries were part of the National Act in Feb.  1867. Before that, grounds were privately purchased and set aside on land adjacent to military hospitals and battlefields.

Each national cemetery in Arkansas carries a unique story, bearing witness to the sacrifices made by brave men and women in different periods of American history; the gravestones are a tangible connection to the past. As visitors wander through the rows of perfectly lined headstones, they face the substantial impact of war on individual lives and the collective memory of a nation.

Symbols and Meaning in the National Cemeteries

Each memorial tells a unique story, immortalizing the sacrifices made by those who served our country. These symbols of remembrance go beyond mere plaques or gravestones – they encapsulate the spirit and values that continue to shape our nation.

  • Headstones are made of marble or granite.
  • All headstones are 42 inches long, 13 inches wide and 4 inches thick.
  • Each weighs approximately 230 pounds.
  • Headstones may only be cleaned when temperatures exceed 40 degrees, and the landowner grants permission.
  • The Veterans Affairs will provide a free headstone for veterans buried in private cemeteries.
  • An emblem of belief may be selected from a provided list for the headstone and serve as a beginning guide to their story.
  • All headstones must include a legal name, year of birth and death and branch of service. Wars participated in, and an approved term of endearment may be added.
  • Civil War and Spanish-American War Veterans have a unique headstone with a depressed shield and raised letters.
  • Confederate soldiers have a granite or marble headstone with pointed tops. Immediately following the Civil War, only Union Soldiers were buried in National Cemeteries, so Confederate Cemeteries in the state gathered the bodies of those lost immediately in many battles.

Beyond the physical structures, the cemeteries are also home to countless stories waiting to be uncovered. Each headstone tells a unique tale of heroism, resilience and love for our country. From World War II veterans who survived harrowing battles to young soldiers who tragically lost their lives in the line of duty, the stories within these cemeteries offer a glimpse into the diverse experiences and backgrounds of those who served.

National Cemeteries in Arkansas

Fayetteville National Cemetery |1000 S. Lt. Col. Leroy Pond Avenue, Fayetteville

History: In 1867, the first five acres for the national cemetery were purchased from local residents. According to a sketch, the original layout of the cemetery is of an outer circle surrounding a six-pointed star with diamonds between the points of the star and a flagpole in the center. There were eighteen sections with an estimated capacity of 1,800 graves.” The first graves were all soldiers’ bodies gathered from nearby Civil War battles at Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, and Elk Horn Tavern, mostly with unknown names.

Points of Interest: Carillon added after WWII, Revolutionary War Soldier Memorial, 1st Marine Division Memorial, Purple Heart Memorial, annual wreath ceremony is Dec. 16

Fort Smith National Cemetery

522 Garland Avenue, Fort Smith | Website

History: On Christmas Day, 1817, soldiers built a fort on the bluff overlooking the convergence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers. The site of the fort served as a base camp for military troops serving to keep peace between the Cherokee and Osage tribes. Out of necessity, they designated a cemetery in a field nearby. In 1838, the Army permanently established a post at the Fort Smith site and following the Civil War, their burial grounds were elevated to an official national cemetery, using the grounds for fallen soldiers at skirmishes nearby.

Points of Interest: Carillon added after WWII, a memorial to the Unknown Confederate Dead, McIntosh-Steen Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Pearl Harbor Memorial, annual wreath ceremony is Dec. 16


Little Rock National Cemetery

2523 Springer Blvd, Little Rock | Website

History: In 1862, following the battle of Pea Ridge, Union Troops occupied the capitol city for the remainder of the Civil War. The government purchased a plot of land inside the city cemetery for military use. In April 1868, as part of a national effort, bodies from the war were moved and interned in this section of the cemetery. Over time, a Confederate Cemetery developed nearby and in 1938, the deeded piece of land became the Confederate section of the National Cemetery.

Points of Interest: Rostrum/ Speakers Platform, Minnesota Monument, Confederate Monument, annual wreath ceremony is Dec. 16

Grave Locator for National Cemeteries

Update a Veteran’s Living Legacy profile

State Veterans Cemeteries

Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery | 1501 West Maryland Avenue, North Little Rock

Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery-Birdeye | 3600 Highway 163, Birdeye

Their Legacy

The grounds of National Cemeteries are typically open to the public from sunrise to sunset. The honor of these hallowed spaces makes them an easy spot for quiet and tranquility. I live near two of these locations, and when I’m in the area and have a little time, I like just to take a few moments and sit in my car, roll my window down, and enjoy the quiet of the moment.

The time for reflection lifts my heart to gratitude. I often say a prayer for the family of the name in front of me or for the Unknown Soldier whose life left a big question mark. On July 4th, this often serves as a place for me to help explain the significance of the holiday before we attend a fireworks event in our town. On Veteran’s Day, I like to drive through and just pause to reflect on my place in carrying the torch of the legacy of honor in this place.


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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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2 responses to “Veterans Day: Exploring the Arkansas National Cemeteries”

  1. Scotty Scott Home says:

    Thanks for including the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery! I serve on The Foundation Board of Directors. We’re always in need of communications about the cemetery and VOLUNTEERS and financial support. Thanks again.

  2. […] the Load volunteers are also connected to Patriot Day programs at National Cemeteries, partnering with the Veterans Affairs Department to clean headstones at National Cemetery […]

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